The Rangers continually requested reinforcements to support their dwindling numbers. None were available. They were told flatly, “Hold the hill at all costs.” As the fighting continued, dead and wounded Rangers piled up inside the troop shelter atop 400.
By this time, the Rangers were down to fewer than 20 men, and many of the survivors were wounded — some several times over. But even the severely wounded manned fighting positions. One of Lomell’s fingers was dangling from a tendon, “half dropping off.” A fellow Ranger recalled Lomell’s presence on the hill: “I can still see Len walking on the top of that hill, his blood coming from his hand, and carrying his tommy gun. A leader like that we would do anything for.”
The Germans desperately wanted to retake Hill 400. They sent an elite parachute battalion against the Rangers and even offered German soldiers the Iron Cross and two weeks of furlough if they recaptured the hill. The Reich wanted the hill because it provided high ground for artillery. What is more important, they wanted it because it provided observation into the assembly areas in which they were assembling for the Battle of the Bulge, an operation cloaked in secrecy. The capture of the hill could have unraveled Hitler’s last great counteroffensive.
Miraculously, the men of Dog Company and Fox Company continued to fend off German attacks and held the hill until December 8, when an infantry unit finally arrived.
The GIs who relieved the Rangers later reported a “considerable moving of troops in the enemy’s rear.” But no one in the chain of command connected the dots. On December 16, the Battle of the Bulge began in a furious assault on Allied lines, with the sort of total surprise the Americans had not experienced since Pearl Harbor.
Ranger Friendships Last a Lifetime
The Boys of Pointe du Hoc who took out the big guns on top of the cliffs in Normandy are all in their nineties now. Of the original 68 men from Dog Company, 2nd Ranger Battalion, only four are left.
The Boys of Pointe du Hoc are fading away. The entire World War II generation is in its twilight. Len Lomell, who disabled the guns of Pointe du Hoc and vigorously helped lead the defense of Hill 400, passed away in 2011. In his last days, he gave a final order.
Lomell turned to his best friend and fellow Ranger, Tom Ruggiero, and told him, “I don’t think I’m going to last much longer. That time may come before we are able to obtain a Presidential Unit Citation for the men that were lost on 400. I want you to go after it.”
“I will go after it, if it’s the last thing I do,” Ruggiero promised. The beloved Len Lomell died a short time later.
The Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) is awarded to units that display extraordinary heroism under difficult or hazardous conditions. The 2nd Ranger Battalion received the PUC for their special-operations mission on Pointe du Hoc, but their efforts at Hill 400, which were equally extraordinary and heroic, have largely been forgotten — except by those who survived the battle.
At 92, Ranger Tom Ruggiero is carrying out Lomell’s order and fulfilling his duty to the end. He continues to pursue the citation to honor the men, his brothers in arms, who won the battle of Hill 400, and held it at all costs.
— Patrick K. O’Donnell is a historian and the bestselling author of eight books, the most recent being Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc.